Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tom Segev's 1967

New York Times Book Review: By Ethan Bronner
The Israelis quickly named the June 1967 event the Six-Day War to echo biblical creation. Like many historical watersheds, its origins and consequences have been intensely analyzed and debated, especially in recent weeks as its 40th anniversary was marked. Mr. Segev illuminates his two jokes with more than 600 pages of social history. His argument, in the end, is this: Anxiety, much of it Holocaust related, was so overpowering that Israel went to war against saber-rattling Egypt and Syria when diplomacy might have sufficed, and the rout of its neighbors caused such irrational exultation in Israel that it foolishly became an occupier, a role that continues to drag it and the region down.

Mr. Segev is part of the new historians of Israel, as they are known, who have challenged what they consider their country’s founding myths, largely with newly released or uncovered archival material. Young (and not-so-young) societies tell heroic stories of themselves, and Israel’s new historians seek to reshape those stories, not only to make them more accurate, but also to help Israelis see themselves as outsiders do and thereby find a way to compromise.

If you are weak and noble and your enemy strong and evil, there is little to discuss. But if it turns out you are more powerful and your neighbor weaker than you had understood, and your actions less high-minded than you believed, you may rethink your next move. ...

“1967” is a fascinating and devastating portrait of a society filled with self-doubt, then suddenly with power and messianic fervor. Missing from the compelling and damning narrative are the Arabs, with their own considerable delusions and failures. It is quite right that the Israeli occupation has been cruel and counterproductive, greatly delaying the chances of peaceful coexistence. It is less clear, however, how the Middle East would have turned out if Israel had restrained itself in 1967. In a region devoid of good government, economic development and individual opportunity, militant Islam could have built its army of the faithful even without Israeli occupation.

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